A twenty-nine year old James Hunter smiled as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose before picking up two mugs of hot chocolate off his counter. Walking slowly, so as not to spill the drinks, James exited the kitchen and went into his dimly lit living room.
The embers of a fire smoldered in the fireplace, and the only other light in the room was from the Christmas tree in the corner.
James sidled around the couch, his smile broadening as he saw what awaited him.
His wife and fellow veterinarian of nearly seven years lay on the couch, her reddish hair splayed around her shoulders, and a round bump visible between her hips.
"What are you looking at?" Mandy asked jokingly, leaning forwards to accept her mug of cocoa. James sat at her blanket covered feet, rubbing her leg tenderly with one hand and taking a sip of cocoa.
"You" He replied, chocolate coating his upper lip. Mandy tried to lean forwards again to wip it off, but her swollen stomach inhibited her from doing so. James wiped it off himself, then set his mug aside.
"You two are beautiful" James said before deftly scooting himself in between his wife and the couch, wrapping his arms around her belly. The baby kicked, and James took the opportunity to kiss Mandy's neck.
As her husband caressed her stomach, Mandy thought back in time. She remembered the day James had proposed, right in the middle of Animal Ark, with everyone there watching.
"The time has come for us to pass the torch" Dr. Adam Hope had said, clad in his nice turtleneck and wearing a party hat.
"We've owned the clinic for many years now, and it's time to retire" Dr. Emily Hope continued.
"Mandy, we leave the clinic and all its duties to you. Over the years we've watched you grow into a beautiful woman and a brilliant veterinarian. Congratulations Doctor Hope!" Mandy's father had finished, leading the applause then hugging a teary Mandy.
James came up beside her, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"This seems like the perfect time for another announcement" He said in his strong voice, sounding nothing like the nervous teenager she had known all those years.
"Doctor Mandy Hope, will you marry me?"
The room had gone completely silent, waiting for Mandy's reply.
"Of course" She had said simply, looking down at her best friend and lover, who was down on one knee for her. James had slipped the simple gold band on her left ring finger, apologizing as he did so.
"It's not much, but I can get you something else once I have more money saved up"
Mandy looked straight into his eyes, drawing him up to stand in front of her.
"I don't need anything else, only you" She had whispered before kissing him.
Mandy twisted the gold band around her finger, stroking one of James' hands that was wrapped around her belly. They had been married a few months later. a simple service in the church, a reception at the town hall. They had danced together for almost every dance, not wanting to let each other go.
Their honeymoon had been like a dream, even if it was just a trip to London for the week. James hadn't let go of her hand, and had barely let her out of bed. The passion they had felt then still hadn't dimmed. James did let her out of the bedroom more often, though.
Now, almost seven years later, they were expecting their second child. Their daughter Mariah was asleep in her room. Mandy could picture her, black hair tangled around her face, the dreams of a five year old whirling through her mind.
James hadn't wanted to know what their little one on the way was going to be, but Mandy had snuck a look at the ultrasound. It was another girl, probably going to be crazy for animals just like her parents and sister and who would beg for a new puppy before her second birthday.
Mandy let one of her hands drift down to the floor, where she knew Blackie was laying down. And old dog now, Blackie was quite the opposite from his puppy years. He guarded Mariah very well, and Mandy was sure that he would guard the new little one just as well.
Her mother Emily doted on Mariah, and if her father had lived to meet her, Mandy was sure he would have spoiled his granddaughter as well. Adam Hope had died peacefully in his sleep only a few months after retirement, leaving his wife alone.
Whenever Mandy couldn't think of a solution to a problem she had, she would still ask her father for help.
The fire crackled, making shadows jump on the walls.
"Mommy?" A small voice called from the doorway. Mariah shuffled in, dragging a worn stuffed dog behind her. Blackie raised his head.
"Yes, sweetie?" Mandy replied, sitting up to embrace her daughter.
"I had a bad dream" Mariah mumbled into her mother's shoulder, sounded for all the world like her father in his younger years.
"I'll take you back to bed" James said, sliding off the couch and picking his daughter up. Mandy followed them up the stairs, watching as her husband put their daughter to sleep, tucking her in just right.
Who would have thought that he best friend would become her lover, husband and the father of her chidlren? Awkward, gangly James, now all grown up.
Mandy smiled and caressed her stomach, feeling the baby kick. James finished with Mariah, slipping to Mandy's side and shutting the door softly.
"Have I told you today that you're beautiful?" He asked, embracing her rounded form and burying his face into the crook of her neck.
"I don't believe that you have, Mr. Hunter" Mandy replied playfully, bringing her husband's head up for a light kiss.
"Mandy?" James asked softly when they broke apart.
"Yes?" She replied.
"I love you"
Mandy smiled, giving her husband's hand a squeeze.
"And I love you"
In their minds, Mandy and James silently thanked each other for the blessings they had received and given over the years, and prayed for more to come.